Utility services — Enforcement of lien — Limitations on termination of service for residential heating.
(1) The lien for charges for service by a city waterworks, or electric light or power plant may be enforced only by cutting off the service until the delinquent and unpaid charges are paid, except that until June 30, 1991, utility service for residential space heating may be terminated between November 15 and March 15 only as provided in subsections (2) and (4) of this section. In the event of a disputed account and tender by the owner of the premises of the amount the owner claims to be due before the service is cut off, the right to refuse service to any premises shall not accrue until suit has been entered by the city and judgment entered in the case.
(2) Utility service for residential space heating shall not be terminated between November 15 through March 15 if the customer:
(a) Notifies the utility of the inability to pay the bill, including a security deposit. This notice should be provided within five business days of receiving a payment overdue notice unless there are extenuating circumstances. If the customer fails to notify the utility within five business days and service is terminated, the customer can, by paying reconnection charges, if any, and fulfilling the requirements of this section, receive the protections of this chapter;
(b) Provides self-certification of household income for the prior twelve months to a grantee of the *department of community, trade, and economic development which administers federally funded energy assistance programs. The grantee shall determine that the household income does not exceed the maximum allowed for eligibility under the state's plan for low-income energy assistance under 42 U.S.C. 8624 and shall provide a dollar figure that is seven percent of household income. The grantee may verify information in the self-certification;
(c) Has applied for home heating assistance from applicable government and private sector organizations and certifies that any assistance received will be applied to the current bill and future utility bills;
(d) Has applied for low-income weatherization assistance to the utility or other appropriate agency if such assistance is available for the dwelling;
(e) Agrees to a payment plan and agrees to maintain the payment plan. The plan will be designed both to pay the past due bill by the following October 15 and to pay for continued utility service. If the past due bill is not paid by the following October 15, the customer shall not be eligible for protections under this chapter until the past due bill is paid. The plan shall not require monthly payments in excess of seven percent of the customer's monthly income plus one-twelfth of any arrearage accrued from the date application is made and thereafter during November 15 through March 15. A customer may agree to pay a higher percentage during this period, but shall not be in default unless payment during this period is less than seven percent of monthly income plus one-twelfth of any arrearage accrued from the date application is made and thereafter. If assistance payments are received by the customer subsequent to implementation of the plan, the customer shall contact the utility to reformulate the plan; and
(f) Agrees to pay the moneys owed even if he or she moves.
(3) The utility shall:
(a) Include in any notice that an account is delinquent and that service may be subject to termination, a description of the customer's duties in this section;
(b) Assist the customer in fulfilling the requirements under this section;
(c) Be authorized to transfer an account to a new residence when a customer who has established a plan under this section moves from one residence to another within the same utility service area;
(d) Be permitted to disconnect service if the customer fails to honor the payment program. Utilities may continue to disconnect service for those practices authorized by law other than for nonpayment as provided for in this section. Customers who qualify for payment plans under this section who default on their payment plans and are disconnected can be reconnected and maintain the protections afforded under this chapter by paying reconnection charges, if any, and by paying all amounts that would have been due and owing under the terms of the applicable payment plan, absent default, on the date on which service is reconnected; and
(e) Advise the customer in writing at the time it disconnects service that it will restore service if the customer contacts the utility and fulfills the other requirements of this section.
(4) All municipal utilities shall offer residential customers the option of a budget billing or equal payment plan. The budget billing or equal payment plan shall be offered low-income customers eligible under the state's plan for low-income energy assistance prepared in accordance with 42 U.S.C. 8624(C)(1) without limiting availability to certain months of the year, without regard to the length of time the customer has occupied the premises, and without regard to whether the customer is the tenant or owner of the premises occupied.
(5) An agreement between the customer and the utility, whether oral or written, shall not waive the protections afforded under this chapter.
[1995 c 399 § 36; 1991 c 165 § 2; 1990 1st ex.s. c 1 § 1; 1987 c 356 § 1; 1986 c 245 § 1; 1985 c 6 § 3; 1984 c 251 § 1; 1965 c 7 § 35.21.300. Prior: 1909 c 161 § 2; RRS § 9472.]
| *Reviser's note: The "department of community, trade, and economic development" was renamed the "department of commerce" by 2009 c 565.|
Findings -- 1991 c 165: "The legislature finds that the health and welfare of the people of the state of Washington require that all citizens receive essential levels of heat and electric service regardless of economic circumstance and that rising energy costs have had a negative effect on the affordability of housing for low-income citizens and have made it difficult for low-income citizens of the state to afford adequate fuel for residential space heat. The legislature further finds that level payment plans, the protection against winter heating shutoff, and house weatherization programs have all been beneficial to low-income persons." [1991 c 165 § 1.]